Going into his third season as a member of the 6A-East Conference, Jacksonville Coach Barry Hickingbotham said he is hoping his inexperienced team will step up in some respects this season.
The Titans, who won three conference games in their first two years in the league, will not face an easy road this season, playing perennial 6A playoff teams Pine Bluff, Jonesboro, West Memphis and Searcy, along with newcomer Sylvan Hills.
"We have three offensive and three defensive starters back," Hickingbotham said, noting that one of his offensive starters, quarterback Malik Curley, was a starter on defense last season. "We are young in a lot of areas. We have seniors that we are counting on and backups last year we are counting on this year.
"We have to get them initiated in a hurry. They are working as hard as any bunch I've had on the practice field and in weight room. When they get under the lights on Friday night for the first time, it will be a little different. We'll see how they adjust."
Hickingbotham said Pine Bluff is still the favorite in the conference.
"There's no doubt about it, Pine Bluff gets the edge," he said.
But Hickingbotham doesn't give all of his praise to the Zebras. West Memphis, Jonesboro, Searcy and Sylvan Hills are also teams to watch for, he said.
With few returning starters, Hickingbotham said he still doesn't want to put Curley back on defense unless he is really needed. He said he would much rather keep Curley on offense where he can communicate with him between series, letting him know what the coaches have seen and where to make any adjustments,
With that in mind, the Titans will work from the Spread this season, hoping to motion people around and get a few guys in space. If there is to be any power in the middle, it will have to be quick hitters, Hickingbotham said.
Defensively, Jacksonville lost three starting linebackers from last season, so replacements will be a concern.
"We got guys who are hungry. But until they get on the grass and turn the lights on, it's kind of a question mark," Hickingbotham said. "Our prospective linebackers didn't get any experience last year. They played a lot of junior varsity, but JV and varsity are like night and day."
Defensive linemen Marquez Casey (6-3, 240 pounds) and Kaylon McCoy (5-10, 230) and free safety Tre Newson (5-11, 170) will anchor the defense with hope newcomers will gain experience quickly. Hickingbotham said the two linemen will probably see action on both sides of the ball.
Curley will drive the Titans on offense. Joining him will be wide receiver Jordan Johnson (6-3, 178) and slot receiver Braylon Mosby (5-6, 155).
"We expect big things out of [Johnson]," Hickingbotham said. "We didn't throw to him much last year, but he will get some opportunities this year. He worked in the slot last year, but he will be outside this season. We hope he can catch some long balls and score some touchdowns this year."
Mosby, a junior, doesn't have the size of Johnson, but the Titans are hoping his speed will keep him out of traffic. He will be utilized on jet sweeps and slants this year.
With an week earlier start time for high school games, Hickingbotham said Jacksonville purposely did not schedule a game for the so-called Zero Week.
"We talked about it at the beginning, and I would hate to put a team out there that's not ready," he said. "We needed the time, that's what we don't have enough of."
That time will run out Aug. 31.
Sports on 08/10/2018
Titans at a Glance
COACH Barry Hickingbotham
2017 RECORD 3-9, 2-5
KEY RETURNERS OL/DL Marquez Casey (Sr., 6-3, 240), OL/DL Kaylon McCoy (Sr., 5-10, 240), FS Tre Newson (Sr., 5-11, 170), QB/DB Malik Curley (Sr., 160-170), WR Jordan Johnson (Sr., 6-3, 178), SB Braylon Mosby (Jr., 5-6, 155).
Sept. 7;at LR Catholic
Sept. 14;LR Hall
Sept. 21;at Searcy*
Oct. 5;at Mountain Home*
Oct. 12;Sylvan Hills*
Oct. 19;West Memphis*
Oct. 26;at Marion*
Nov. 1;at Pine Bluff*
Print Headline: Titans learning on the go